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May 12, 2003
How To

Special Report Part I: Emailing Aging Boomers vs. Seniors

SUMMARY: Older consumers adore email. However, you can not treat the two major demographics (aging boomers vs. "seniors") the same. Part I of MarketingSherpa's new brief report tells you:
a. Quick Boomer Demographic Basics
b. What is the difference? Aging boomers vs. "Seniors":
c. Marketing through boomers to seniors
d. Eight Tips on Emailing Boomers
Over 90% of U.S. boomers use email, and studies show they love it.

They are a tough sell: They are generally considered to be more vocal and more demanding consumers, who will not be content with standard offers that may have worked with older generations of the past, says Jean Van Ryzin, editor of Selling to Seniors.

-> Quick Boomer Demographic Basics

Baby boomers can be generally described as anyone born between 1946 and 1964. “Leading-edge” or “first-wave” boomers are those in their fifties. A typical leading-edge boomer:

-- expects a lifestyle at least as good as his parents;
-- is nervous about the economy, and expects to work into retirement;
-- is part of the “sandwich generation,” with kids in college and elderly parents who may need caretaking;
-- is healthier, more active, and has a longer expected lifespan than earlier generations;
-- is more interested in financial issues than healthcare issues;
-- is comfortable with computer technology and uses email;
-- has unusually strong ties with their mothers (males in particular).

According to Bob Kesner, President of Evergreen Direct, these boomers (or Bloomers, as he calls them), are also “idealistic and have a wacky, tumultuous past. They don’t like to feel they’ve sold out.”

-> What is the difference? Aging boomers vs. "Seniors:"

Though boomers are edging up on senior status, there are big distinctions in marketing to the two groups, says Kesner. Some major differences include:

-- Boomers want financial independence; seniors want physical independence.
-- Seniors trust the email process but not the Internet as a whole; boomers trust both.
-- Boomers want endorsements and industry ratings; seniors want testimonials.
-- Boomers like options; seniors prefer things that are prepackaged.

-> Marketing through boomers to seniors:

Plus, you may end up marketing through boomers to reach seniors because a common thread among baby boomers is the reality of taking care of elderly parents. “We’ve marketed some products that appeal to the senior population, but we try to involve the caregiver,” says Kesner.

This can be tricky, since seniors can be touch about their age and independence issues. On the other hand, a caretaker has found herself in the position of discovering her parents are not invincible. She is looking for reassurance, and wants a personal touch.

(Yes, we say “she” on purpose. A study done by the Metropolitan Insurance Company shows that 82% of caregivers are female.)

To walk the fine line between the needs of boomer caregivers and their senior parents, it is important to use first person and be conversational but polite, not condescending. Let them know that you understand the issues they’re facing, that you are on their team.

It is hard to go too far with the personal touch when reaching out to boomer caregivers. “We’ve even seen slight increases when using the word ‘Mom’ rather than ‘Mother,’” says Steve Hardman of

-> Eight Tips on Emailing Boomers:

You can maximize your email efforts to boomers by taking the following considerations into account. Here is what it all boils down to:

#1. Use wording that lets them maintain their idealistic dreams.

As part of the Woodstock generation, they do not want to feel they have sold out in any way. References to JFK, Woodstock, the “summer of love,” civil rights, can all help boomers recapture the past. According to Kesner, “Words boomers may remember include Barbie doll, black hole, flower children, microwave oven, mini skirt, zip codes, hippies.”

Do not overdo it. They will see right through you.

#2. Focus on the financial and calm their potential fears.

Boomers are pre-retirement and, with an uncertain economy, they are feeling financially uncertain themselves. Give assurances. Talk about portfolios, bonuses, fast-track retirement.

Unlike seniors, healthcare issues are not their main concern.

#3. Emphasize convenience.

Boomers are busy. They have kids, jobs, elderly parents, second families, lots of responsibility. Make it easy for them.

#4. Avoid scare tactics.

They are too savvy to be taken in. “It’s negative advertising, and it’s just a bad idea,” says Kesner.

#5. Use statistics.

Cynical as a group, boomers need to be convinced of your credibility. Establish it early on in a message, to set up a trusting relationship at the outset. Statistics, testimonials from named individuals, and press clippings can help. Hype-laden copy will hurt.

#6. Give them options.

This audience wants to feel in charge of their decisions. Offer them a variety of choices, and a variety of ways to respond. Include a phone number as well as a hotlink.

#7. It’s not all about HTML.

“Counter-intuitively, we mix up our HTML and text,” says Nancy Cathey, VP of emarketing/investments for Phillips Investment Resources. This audience, she says, favors letter-like messages rather than splashy images.

You can also get away with more text with this audience. In fact it may come across as more sincere, honest and trustworthy.

#8. Use personal or cultural references.

This group is more likely to open an email if the subject line references current events.

“These tactics work,” says Cathey. “It’s just enough to get attention, as long as it’s contextual and current, like a story in the news.”

You can also try using the customer’s name in the subject line for a personal touch.

Most of all, remember:

Baby boomers are at the peak of their earning power, they are financially savvy, they are socially aware, and they are in love with email as a communications medium. They are open to hearing from you, just make sure you know their needs.

In next week's issue: Specific tips on emailing the seniors marketplace.
See Also:

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